By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
When the phone rang in the middle of the night, Coyle High School basketball coach Josh Sumrall wouldn’t have to answer. He’d simply grab his keys and head to Coyle’s gym only to be greeted by a smiling Tony Aska.
In a whirlwind senior season, it was those moments of solitude inside the Coyle gym — the only sound the swish of a basketball passing through the net — where Aska and the Bluejackets’ dream of not only making the state tournament but getting to the state championship developed.
“He would come get the keys from me at night and on the weekends and he’d go to the gym by himself and work on his game,” Sumrall said. “That’s really when I saw a big improvement and his desire to get to the state tournament and reach our goal, when he started working more individually.”
“I used to just see what would happen if I did this or did that,” Aska said. “I used to put a lot of pressure on myself — pretend we were in a tight game for the state championship. I’d work on my putbacks and my free throws. I’d say, ‘OK, we’re down by one. If I make both these free throws we win the state championship. If I miss both we lose.’ You know, just stuff like that — stuff kids dream about all the time.”
As it turns out, those dreams became a reality. Aska averaged 19.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game and knocked down 9 of 10 free throws in the Class B state semifinals to get Coyle to the state championship.
“He was a big part of our team,” Sumrall said. “He was a very good teammate and made everyone around him a lot better. … Just about every game he was the best player on the floor. We were glad to have him wearing a blue and white uniform and glad that he was on our side. It’d be tough to scheme against him. We were able to do a lot of things with him on the floor.”
The 6-foot-6-inch senior didn’t have to do a lot to make a huge impact for the Bluejackets this season. His athleticism already put him head and shoulders above most athletes in Class B. But while he may not have been a vocal leader, he knew this year he was going to be the central piece in the Bluejackets offense.
“Coach (Sumrall) told me that it was going to be all up to me,” Aska said. “I was going to be the big guy, so I had to set the tempo. I had to put in the overtime for my team. It wasn’t about scoring all those points. A lot of them came on putbacks. I trusted my teammates to make shots, but if they missed I was going to be there for the putback.”
Time and time again, Aska was there when his teammates needed a lift — just like they were there after the heartbreaking state championship loss to Arnett.
“There are lot of words to describe the season, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Aska said. “I would have loved to have won the gold ball, but just knowing that my dream almost came true — that was a pretty good life lesson in itself.”
And through all the hours of practice — the late nights in Coyle’s 86-year-old gym, with ghosts of the past watching in the grandstands — Aska said he wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.
“Looking back on it now, I wanted to have no regrets,” Aska said. “When the last buzzer rang, I knew right then that I had no regrets. It wasn’t a gold ball, but we brought back a silver one. A lot of teams didn’t even make the state tournament, so it does make me happy knowing that I was a part of something so special.”